I said I was going to make healthy lemon bars this summer and I finally did it! Vegan and naturally sweet!
2 years ago I gave Ina Garten’s lemon bar recipe a natural makeover. I thought I had conquered the world of traditional desserts because they were a perfect replica. To be more specific, my husband couldn’t tell the difference and everyone I tested them on adored them. A real feat because her lemon bar recipe is the best, right?
Now a couple of years later, with a little more knowledge and experience, I wasn’t going to stop there. I was going to make lemon bars without a pound of butter, sugar or eggs! So without the traditional ingredients, these healthy lemon squares are better for you. They still have that famous shortbread base and thick lemon filling. And contain that divine sweet to tart ratio flavor that is found in Ina Garten’s recipe.
So how on earth did I make lemon bars without butter, sugar or eggs that still tasted delicious? There’s a secret ingredient! It’s brilliant!
It’s agar-agar!. Agar-agar (or sometimes just called agar) is made from seaweed and is often used as a gelatin substitute. (If you didn’t know, gelatin is made from boiled animal ligaments and sinews so that’s not vegan-friendly either.) It can be a little expensive, but you never need much! For a 9″ by 13″ pan of these healthy lemon bars that are also super thick and filling – you’ll only need a tablespoon of agar! So your vegan investment will last a long time. That is, if you can resist making these lemon bars every other week!
Agar-agar is wonderful because when we add it to lemon juice and natural sugars, it will become deliciously thick and will take on the flavor of citrus. It holds a wonderful shape, so you get perfect lemon squares every time. The texture is a bit different from traditional bars, but they will feed any custardy craving! All this without refined sugar or unhealthy dairy products. Yep, the best of both worlds – these are a taste of vegan goodness to the max!
Healthy Vegan Lemon Bars
2 1/3 cups White Spelt Flour or Organic White Flour
3/4 cup Xylitol or Powdered Honey or Maple Sugar (powdered honey is my fav for this part)
1/4 teaspoon Baking Powder
1/8 teaspoon Sea or Pink Salt
1 1/3 cups Earth Balance Butter
1/2 teaspoon Natural Butter Extract (optional)
2 cups Water
1 Tablespoon Agar-Agar Powder (not Agar-Agar Flakes)
1 1/4 cup Xylitol OR 3/4 cup Xylitol and 1/2 cup Powdered Honey
1 Tablespoon Liquid Stevia
1 teaspoon Pure Vanilla Extract
1 1/2 cups Fresh Lemon Juice
2 Tablespoons Cornstarch (decrease to 11/2 Tablespoons if using powdered honey)
2 Tablespoons Fresh Lemon Zest (about 6 Large Lemons)
2-3 drops Natural Yellow Food Coloring (optional, but recommended for a true yellow color)
2 Tablespoons Powdered Xylitol
1/2 teaspoon White Flour
Prepare the crust:
In a large bowl combine the flour, sweetener, baking powder and salt. Mix well to combine. Cut in the earth balance butter in to the mixture until it looks like almost like a moist pie dough. Scoop out the mixture and press into a slightly greased 9 by 13 or 11 by 7 pan for thicker bars (like pictured). Press gently around the edges to create a crust so the filling will hold well. Place in the freezer for about 5 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the crust for 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and allow to cool. Next, start on your filling.
In a saucepan, soak the agar and water in a sauce pan for 2 minutes.
After the agar has mostly dissolved, turn on the heat to high and boil for about 2-3 minutes until the agar is completely dissolved. The mixture will boil and bubble up, so just lift the pan up from the heat if it rises too much. Mix in dry sweetener and stevia. Turn down the heat to medium and add the cornstarch, lemon juice and lemon zest. Whisk constantly over a low simmer until the mixture thickens slightly and everything is dissolved, about 3-5 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the vanilla extract and the food coloring, if desired.
When everything has dissolved, pour over the crust. Don’t worry that the mixture isn’t very thick at this point, it will stiffen up in the fridge! Allow to refrigerate for about an hour, until the filling is slightly wiggly but firm and has set. Sprinkle or sift some powdered xylitol over bars. Slice into bars and devour! Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge.
* The dusted sweeteners on top of the lemon filling dissolves really quickly unless adding a bit of flour to it. Because of this, dust with sweeteners immediately before serving.
Recipe inspired from nomeatathelete.com, who sourced recipe from Veganomicon